HAVANA, May 26th “This looks more and more like the 1990s,” was the phrase with which a resident of Jovellar Street in Central Havana described the power outage suffered by the area since nine in the morning. The dreaded blackouts have returned to the gates of a summer that is perceived as uncertain and difficult.
“I couldn’t work because I got to a client’s house and there was no light,” laments Mamito, an air conditioning repairman who lost the morning due to the blackout. “Without electricity, I can’t test the equipment or show the owner how the fix turned out.” Around the area, in the Cerro neighborhood, the cafeterias were also closed and the traffic lights were off.
Local stations try to broadcast the blackout schedule but sometimes the blackouts come without warning. Those received worst are those that appear in the middle of the night because the heat of May forces us to use fans or air conditioning equipment to be able to sleep. It is common for shouts to rise with swear words or insults against Cuban leaders when the blades of the fans stop moving in the middle of the night.
But the geography of the blackouts is irregular and reveals the ruling party’s fears of new popular protests like those of last July. “Why don’t they take electricity away from Havanans as much as from us?” asked a resident of the city of Sancti Spíritus on Facebook this weekend. Most of the comments pointed to the authorities’ fear that “people in the capital will throw themselves into the streets.”
“I’m editing and… boom! blackout. Impossible to work like this. I can speak for Pinar del Río, which is where I live, and here in this city there are (minimum) 10 to 12 hours a day without power,” published the influencer Daguito Valdés, a soccer expert with thousands of followers on social networks.
“You have to wait because we have the guard brigade on the street with several reports,” answers a female voice on the other end of the Unisa Elevator Company line. Reports of elevators getting stuck with people inside and due to a power outage have skyrocketed in recent days. “We are taking longer because we have more calls,” concludes the employee.
In the buildings of Nuevo Vedado, an area of buildings built during the Soviet subsidy, the fear is that “they will remove the electricity and they will not be able to pump the water,” a neighbor of the building known as the pilots’ building next to the street explains to this newspaper. Tulip. “It’s crazy to carry the water up the stairs if we don’t have electricity,” says the man who lives on the 12th floor.
“Call before coming because we don’t know if we’re going to have electricity at that time,” warns Nayaare, a hairdresser from a place leased to individuals near San Rafael Boulevard. “We have had to hurry the turns of several clients because yesterday we had no electricity from the morning until after four in the afternoon.”
Everything slows down when the blackout hits. In the state offices, the employees take the opportunity to paralyze the service to the public, most of the restaurants and cafeterias put up a closed signs and transportation is complicated by the lack of traffic lights. In areas on the outskirts of the city and in the province there is also the problem of mosquitoes.
“You can’t sleep here for three days,” says a young woman from Ciego de Ávila with a small child, in a WhatsApp group. We have to go to the front door of the house and I sit with my son on my lap all night in the armchair, between the rocking and the fan so that the mosquitoes don’t bite him, I can’t sleep a wink.”
A tweet from Lis Cuesta, wife of the Cuban ruler, has added vinegar to the wounds by assuring that he had “his heart in scrubbing mode due to the overwhelming blackouts.”
The reaction has not been long in coming and the text has generated an avalanche of responses in which Cuesta’s “cynicism” is criticized and transparency is demanded about the reasons for the current energy disaster.
This same Monday, President Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged that “the country’s energy situation continues to be very tense” due to “breakdowns in some plants and the scheduled shutdowns of others for maintenance.”
However, according to the president, the fault of these “two extremely hard years,” is not the lack of maintenance of the plants, but the covid-19 pandemic and “the intensified blockade.”
Last Friday, the Cuban Electrical Co. (UNE) explained in a note that, despite the fact that the Lidio Ramón Pérez thermoelectric plant, in Felton, in the Holguin municipality of Mayarí, was put back into operation after a breakdown, it was not able to manage to supply the country’s demand because “six thermal units continue to fail and maintenance is planned at Feltón 2, Mariel 8 and Talla Piedra.”
For the UNE, the situation is “complex” and, as does Díaz-Canel, it blames the situation on the US embargo on the island, which has prevented “carrying out the required maintenance in a timely manner.”
Of the 20 electricity generation blocks that the country has, 16 are “out of the cycle of capital maintenance, and also burning fuel very aggressively.”